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At last! Smith & Wesson's .45 auto.

Back when Smith & Wesson introduced their Model 39 double-action 9mm self-loader some 30 years ago, there were calls for the same pistol in .45 ACP. In reviewing the then-new Model 39 in his classic Sixguns, Elmer Keith, for example, devoted several paragraphs to urging that the Model 39 be made in .45 ACP, and down through the years many devotees of the .45 caliber have longed for a big-bore version of the Smith autoloader.

Hopes were raised back in the latter part of the 1960s, when word got around that Smith had a couple of working prototype .45 autos. As I recall from photos of these pistols, they were built in a target configuraton and more closely resembled the .38 Special Model 52 that the 9mm Parabellum service pistols.

Now, after another two decades, the Smith & Wesson .45 auto is finally a reality. It is a big, stainless pistol tht they have designated the Model 645, and production pistols should be leaving the factory about the time you read this.

The debate about the respective combat effectiveness of the .45 auto compared to the 9mm Parabellum goes on and on among pistolmen wiht little sign of abating. I tend to go along with the school of thought that says there is little practical difference between the two rounds, especially since the development of reliably feeding jacketed hollow point bullets for the smaller caliber. However, the fact remains that many people, including some of the world's most knowledgeable and competent handgunners, do feel much more secure with an auto pistol in .45 caliber than in any smaller bore. Then too, consistent bullet expansion is a sometime thing at conventional handgun

velocities--and when all is said and done, a .45 caliber bullet does enter a target with 60 percent greater frontal area than its 9mm counterpart, regardless of whether the bullets subsequently expand or not.

It is precisely to meet the demands of such admirers of the .45 ACP that Smith & Wesson finally brought out the new Model 645. Essentially, this is a scaled-up version of their 9mm model 639--which, in turn, is an improved, all-stainless steel version of the original Model 39.

As previously mentioned, the 645 is made of stainless steel. Sights are of the fixed, high visibility type. The rear sight is plain black and the front sight has a black insert, which we understand will be changed on later production 645s to the orange insert used on many S&W revolvers. Grips are made of a durable black synthetic material. The safety is of the firing-pin retracting, hammer-dropping type, and there is an automatic firing pin locking safety, as on all the current generation of Smith centerfire service autos. There is also a magazine disconnector so that the pistol cannot be fired with the magazine removed. (We have found that such devices on Smith and other autoloaders are not always trustworthy, though.) The magazine itself is of the single-column type and holds eight rounds. This pistol is very close in tis overall dimensions to the .45 Government Model of 1911. Overall lenght is 8-3/4 inches; barrel lenght is 4-7/8 inches, and weight (empty) is 39 ounces.

Modern centerfire S&W autos use a 1935 Browning-type tilting barrel lockup, while the double-action trigger mechanism derives from the Walther P-38, the first successful full-power DA self-loader. Stripping the new S&W .45 is the same as for any of the Model 39 tribe: Make sure the magazine is removed and the pistol completely empty, with the safety engaged. Retract the slide until the slide stop notch is aligned with the front of the slide top. Push out the slide stop from the right and move the slide forward and off the frame. The recoil spring and guide and then the barrel can be removed from the slide to complete stripping. Upon reassembly be sure to depress the ejector and (on recent-vintage pistols) the lever in the frame that engages the firing pin locking safety in the slide in order to allow the slide to go all the way to the rear.

At the recent Steel Challenge matches in Canyon Country, California, in April of this year, the G&A staff were graciously allowed by Smith & Wesson representatives to give their new .45 auto a workout on the shooting range.

During a lull in the matches, G&A Senior Editor Dave Hetzler, Dave's young son Jeff and I repaired to the private range maintained by combat champs Mickey Fowler and Mike Dalton of International Shootists, Inc. to put the new Smith through its paces.

with us we took an extensive assortment of .45 ACP ammo--Winchester 185-grain Silvertips, Frontier 200-grain jacketed semi-wadcutters and the same firm's 230-grain jacketed flat points, Israeli Samson 185-grain JHPs, Federal 185-grain JSWC target loads, and three varieties of 230-grain hardball--Federal, Samson and "Rio" brand from Brazil, where the .45 served as the military pistol round for many years.

Dave and I first fired for accuracy at 25 yards from the bench. With most loads accuracy was perfectly adequate for a service auto, but not up to match grade standards. Most groups were in the neighborhood of 3 inches, although there were some loads that the pistol did not care for at all. Dave shot the best group of the day--right at 2 inches--with Federal 185-grain JSWC target loads. The best I could coax from the 645 were a couple of 2-1/2-inch groups with the same Federal target load and with Hornady/Frontier 200-grain JSWCs.

However, the pistol we had was a test prototype that had had 25,000 rounds through it prior to our receiving it. It's virtually certain that a new pistol would be more tightly fitted and produce considerably tighter groups.

With virtually all loads, our sample pistol shot low and to the right, no matter who was shooting it. Naturally, this could easily be corrected by filing down the front sight a bit and drifting the rear sight to the left. The sights were otherwise quite satisfactory, offering a good sight picture that was easy to pick up.

Smith & Wesson reps had told us that this pistol would feed full wadcutters and even empty cases. We had to try this out for ourselves, and sure enough, the pistol would feed empties, even when we inserted them in the midst of a magazine full of hardball loads. On the other hand, we did encounter a few failures to feed loaded rounds. With the lightly loaded Federal 185-grain target ammo, cartridges lodged part way into the chamber a couple of times--always it was the last round out of the magazine--and we had a similar failure with one of the Samson 185-grain JHPs. All other bullet configurations fed perfectly with no hang-ups of any kind.

Trigger action was very satisfactory. Although I didn't have a trigger pull gauge handy, I estimate the weight of the pull was about 4 pounds, which is nearly ideal for a service pistol. There may have been just a hint of overtravel, but nothing I could really fault.

In fast, combat-style shooting this big auto really came into its own. The grip was ideally suited to my hand, and the big, allsteel pistol was beautifully controllable with .45 hardball. In several fast strings on the half-scale Colt silhouette, I threw only a single round out of the X-ring, and that one I called.

I might mention that I commenced every rapid-fire string with the long DA pull, and I found it no handicap whatsoever. That old bugbear about the disconcerting first to second shot transition in double-action autos may well have had some validity when the only DA service autos around were wartime P-38s with horrendous 18-pound pulls, but with the slick trigger-cocking pulls on many of today's DA autos, the supposed "handicap" of double action an pretty well be relegated to the category of mythology.

After a while, Dave and I were joined by combat shooting ace Mike Dalton and several others, who also took part in shooting the new pistol. The model 645 was fed a quantity of typical "combat" reloads consisting of the classic H&G #68 200-grain cast semi-wadcutter and 5.5 grains of W-231, and it digested these perfectly.

However, when Mike was peppering a combat silhouette with almost full-auto rapidity using Rio brand hardball, he did encounter a couple of extraction failures. These were the only malfunctions of this type we had. I later miked the case heads of a quantity of these imported cartridges and discovered that they were on the small side, with some only running .469-inch, about .005 or .006-inch smaller than on the American-made Federal and Hornady cases I miked.

As our shooting session was drawing to a close, who should come sauntering up but two of the very finest pistol shots in the world--Rob Leatham, current IPSC champion and winner of the Steel Challenge, and his partner Brian Enos, who has won the Bianchi Cup and many other top action shooting events. These two shooting greats joined us in firing the new pistol. Rob seemed very impressed by the Smith .45 and though that the folks at Springfield had a real winner in the 645.

I agree with Rob that the Smith .45 is a winner. It's an extremely pleasant pistol to shoot and very combat-controllable. Were I a uniformed peace officer or otherwise had need to carry a large holstered defensive sidearm, I would have no reservations about employing the 645, provided it was stoked with a bullet-load combo that had proven its reliability.

Suggested retail price should be a little under $500. Details on the Model 645 and other handguns in the Smith & Wesson line are available from Smith & Wesson, Dept. GA, 2100 Roosevelt Avenue, Springfield, MA 01101.
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Author:Libourel, Jan
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Jul 1, 1985
Previous Article:Firearms of the American West, 1803-1865.
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